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Hirono, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Mitigate Blast Overpressure and Protect Servicemembers

~ Legislation would require Department of Defense to enact better blast overpressure screening, tracking, prevention, and treatment ~

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Chair of the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and 9 colleagues in introducing the Blast Overpressure Safety Act, bipartisan legislation that would direct the Department of Defense (DOD) to enact a variety of measures to help mitigate and protect servicemembers from blast overpressure.

“Far too many servicemembers suffer traumatic brain injuries and other head-related trauma while serving, and not enough is done to research, prevent, mitigate, and track these injuries,” said Senator Hirono. “I’m proud to support this legislation to better understand and prevent these injuries, and help ensure our servicemembers and veterans can get the care they need.” 

During just three months in 2023, DOD provided treatment to servicemembers nearly 50,000 times for traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which are considered the “signature wound” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. For troops with mild TBI, “the most important cause of brain injury was the long-term exposure to explosive weapons.” Researchers in Afghanistan also determined that, “75 percent of the troops’ (blast) exposure was coming from their own weapons.” Despite this, servicemembers continue to train with weapons with unsafe blast levels.

Specifically, the Blast Overpressure Safety Act would:

  • Mandate regular neurocognitive assessments over a service member’s career, including a baseline neurocognitive assessment before training.
  • Create blast overpressure exposure and TBI logs for all service members, which will be captured in their individual longitudinal exposure records.
  • Increase transparency regarding blast overpressure safety in the weapons acquisition process. DoD must consider the minimization of blast overpressure during the acquisition process, require contracting entities to provide blast overpressure safety data, and publish blast overpressure safety data for weapons systems and its plans to better protect service members from in-use weapons systems.
  • Improve data on concussive and subconcussive brain injuries service members sustain. This includes information on discharges related to and medical providers trained in these injuries, as well as efforts with allies and partners to better address these injuries.
  • Enhance efforts to mitigate exposure and help service members access care. This includes retaliation protections for those who seek care; modifying existing weapons system to reduce blast exposure; updating and making publicly available blast overpressure thresholds and creating a waiver system for exceeding these thresholds; training high-risk service members to help them recognize exposure symptoms and creating strategies to mitigate their risk; and expanding the types of technologies in the Warfighter Brain Health Initiative pilot blast monitoring program.
  • Support service member treatment by establishing a Special Operations Comprehensive Brain Health and Trauma program, making the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) a program of record and requiring DoD to provide childcare services to those seeking treatment there, and mandating training for medical and training personnel on blast overpressure and exposure and TBI.
  • Mandate GAO review on DoD efforts to address blast exposure, protect service members from retaliation, and identify the most at-risk military occupational specialties.
  • Implement DoD Inspector General (IG) recommendations from a 2023 report finding DoD does not consistently determine the care service members with TBI need.

This legislation is endorsed by the Wounded Warrior Project.

In addition to Senators Hirono, Warren, and Ernst, this bill is co-sponsored by Senators Rick Scott (R-FL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Susan Collins (R-ME).

The full text of the legislation is available here.